A fun, unscientific guess at Browns' opener

Since 1999, the NFL has had the Cleveland Browns open at home for 14 of their 15 season openers.

It hasn't helped, as the Browns have started the season since their return in '99 losing 13 of 14 openers at home. They've lost twice by 9-6 scores at home in the season opener (think about the odds of that), have been obliterated by Pittsburgh twice and the second time traded the starting quarterback two days later, lost the Dwayne Rudd helmet game and lost to Cincinnati when the defense didn't get on the field and set up on time.

Of course, the one year the Browns opened on the road they also lost, in Tampa Bay.

Who will the Browns open against in 2014?

Start with three facts:

  • The league tries to have cold-weather teams without domes play games early in the season at home, to minimize the impact of weather late in the season.

  • It also tries to match teams of equal ability early in the season to keep interest high. Think about it: If the Browns played (an example) Denver, New England and Seattle the first three games, odds are it would be a bad start and fans would be giving up less than a month into the season. If they open against Tampa Bay or Oakland, a team not expected to be among the strongest is going to get a win.

  • Finally, it likes to reserve division games until late in the season to make sure they're meaningful. The Browns have opened within the division, but that doesn't seem likely this season given all three teams are considered so much better than the Browns.

So let's take a look.

Based on fact No. 2, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and New Orleans would be out, leaving home possibilities of Houston, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Away games that could be eliminated are the three in the Division and Carolina. Which leaves Jacksonville, Tennessee, the Jets and Atlanta.

I don't see the league making Oakland travel for an opener, not with a late Monday night game slot to fill. And I don't see them taking Bill O'Brien on the road for his first game in the NFL. Which leaves Tampa Bay at home; the Bucs also have a new coach in Lovie Smith, though.

Which may point to a road opener. Which to me makes it mandatory to look for compelling stories. The Jaguars and Browns would be the up-and-coming team story, which might work. Last year's defensive coordinator -- Ray Horton -- is in Tennessee, as is the coach who twice spurned the Browns, Ken Whisenhunt; that angle would be more compelling if Joe Banner were still with the Browns. The Titans are out. The Jets have a head coach who mentored the Browns' head coach -- Rex Ryan vs. Mike Pettine in New York. Hmmm. Atlanta is one of those teams that could bounce back strong after an off season. Eliminate the Falcons.

Which leaves two options: On the road at Jacksonville or the Jets.

I say the Pettine-Ryan ("What did you learn from Rex, Mike?" and "How much of Rex is in you, Mike?") scenario is too juicy.

With a one-in-16 chance to get it right, I predict the Browns will open in New York against the Jets.